The Cannonball is Dead, Long Live the Cannonball

Cannonball Run Mercedes

But your preparation should include more than just tightening your lugnuts. Plan your route. What is the distance? How much time do you have? How frequently will you stop to stretch? Can you leave earlier or later to bypass weather or traffic? I once started a motorcycle trip at three in the morning to beat the rush hour out of Kansas City. It’s rough, but you get your time where you can. What is the total fuel range of your vehicle? Plan your refuel stops in advance. Have them pre-plotted into your GPS. Be conservative on your estimates, as your fuel economy will take a staggering hit at higher speeds. On a stretch through Kansas, my Suzuki went from a brimmed tank to having the “low fuel” light blinking in just a hair over one hundred miles. You really don’t want to get stuck on the side of the highway with an empty tank.

Are there any supplies you can bring? This includes both tools and parts, as well as food for yourself. Don’t forget, you are as much a machine as your vehicle. Fatigue is the biggest killer out there, literally and figuratively. Can you bring a co-driver? Being able to relax and give up the wheel for a while will relieve some stress. Even if you never give up the driver’s seat, just having someone to talk to makes a significant difference.

Ed Bolian

What about the vehicle itself? That’s a subject for a whole different article, but none of this happens without an appropriate set of wheels. Of course, first and foremost this is a financial decision. In all likelihood, you’re using whatever car you currently own, but it still bears some examining. The nature of the vehicle will dictate the nature of your driving. The example that always comes to mind is motorcycles. Yes, two wheels bad, I know. A Yamaha R1 will outrun a Harley Davidson Road King using just one gear, but which would you rather cross the country on? Both will do it, but one will require a spinal adjustment every hundred miles.

Aside from just practicality, there is a much more important aspect of vehicle selection that entirely slipped my mind until Bolian brought it up. It has to be something you love. You are going to spend a great deal of time with your steed of choice, so you better enjoy it. Also, it is going to be something you are tied to forever. Any time you recount your tales, or look at photos of it, there it will be, lurking in the background. So make it worthwhile. Picture Roy without his M5 or Morgan, or Bolian without a CL or an S55. Better yet, try to find a picture of them without their car. It’s possible, but takes some work. A vehicle well and truly used begins to develop its own proclivities and personality. It is just as much a main character in your adventure as you are. Choose wisely.

The age of adventure is not over, even as legal and social barriers continue to grow. 2015 saw an impressive number of new records set. Although both Bolian and Roy are not working on breaking the overall record, both are still fascinated with open road adventures. If you go all the way back, before Yates, to the man Cannonball Baker himself, what was it about? It was about making a name for yourself, and doing something difficult. That doesn’t require triple digit speeds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. The most difficult trip I’ve ever made was a mere 650 miles. That’s nothing. I can do that in a car with the cruise control set, the Smoking Tire podcast on the stereo, and my heated seats on. But that’s the easy way. Instead, riding a 650cc sportbike with no windshield through the night…now that took effort. My whole body shook violently shivering to stay warm, the constant wind made my entire neck seize up, and I hid in a truck stop in Colby, Kansas for an hour to avoid a brewing tornado. Yes, it was slower, and unbelievably miserable, but I was proud at the end. Seeing the lights of Kansas City a terrifying eleven hours after I set out brought tears to my eye. When is the last time completing a trip made you weep?

Do not take the easy path. At the core of all of this is the desire to solve problems. Applying greater constraints makes the experience grander. Bolian enjoyed his 2904 drive more than his world record drive, even though it was slower. He told me that he actually got to enjoy the country. At speed, you are so focused on the clock that everything else disappears. On more esoteric adventures, you actually have time to appreciate the journey. Roy is more proud of his 3 Wheeler record than anything else he has ever accomplished. As he told me, and has written himself, everything else pales in comparison. It became “half performance art, half science”. It was something nobody thought was remotely possible. That itself is a better story than “you did the same thing as that guy, just 5% better”. Both see the future as holding infinite possibilities, but these will be new ones. Instead of being won with the pocketbook, they will be won with sheer force of will. To quote the prettiest Kennedy, who seduced his way through life, some things are worth doing “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”.

Alex Roy, Morgan 3-Wheeler

Yes, you can take a quarter of a million dollars, a full race team, and pay your way into the record books. But I’d rather have something money can’t buy. I’d rather have a story that no one else was dumb enough to try and earn. I want to buy a Geo Metro off of Craigslist and try to make it to California. I want to try and stop at every town in the Missouri named after a foreign city, all in one week. There’s a lot, we’re not a creative people. I want to ride a cheap motorcycle from Mexico to Canada. Now that I think about it, my bike is getting a new chain and heated grips soon. I wonder how long it would take to ride to Seattle if you never used a highway. Sure, the numbers are part of it. But in the end, it’s about proving to yourself that you’re worth a damn. Earn a legend that your friends are afraid to attempt. Live the life that will carry on after you’re gone. To quote Yates, “there are no rules”.

Bonus ContentArcGIS graphic of Bolian’s run (Courtesy David Lange)

All images courtesy Ed Bolian and Alex Roy.  Except the Cannonball Run movie shot, that’s from here.